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14th October 2021
Loan forgiveness lawsuit against Education Dept. settled
The American Federation of Teachers has secured a settlement with the U.S. Education Department that could serve as the legal backbone for a spate of changes to a loan forgiveness program for public servants. The agreement resolves a 2019 lawsuit the teachers union filed against then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the department alleging gross mismanagement of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. It affords teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public servants who have been denied cancellation a case review by the Education Department and credit for years of past payments. Those provisions align with the Biden administration’s initiative to bring more than 550,000 people working in the public sector closer to debt cancellation by crediting past payments and reconsidering rejected applications. Under the settlement, the Education Department will cancel the remaining balances of the eight plaintiffs, amounting to nearly $400,000 of debt, by the end of January. While the workers sought cancellation of their loans, the union set out to get the Education Department to create a robust appeals process and a system to identify and account for servicing errors. To that end, the department has agreed to give all borrowers a detailed review of their rejected applications and allow borrowers to submit evidence in support of their claim.
Funds for high-needs students in California diverted
Diverting funds intended for California’s high-needs students for other spending “dampens” the potential to significantly close the achievement gap between high-poverty and low-poverty students, new research from the Public Policy Institute of California has found. School districts on average are directing only 55 cents of every dollar of extra funding from the Local Control Funding Formula to the schools that high-needs students who generate the money attend, according to the report, which examined school-level financial data reported to the state for all districts with more than 250 students and with more than 10 schools. The “imperfect targeting of resources to high-need students within districts remains a concern,” research fellow Julien Lafortune wrote, adding that there are big differences among districts in the extent to which they target the additional resources. The money that didn’t reach the high-needs students wasn’t necessarily “wasted,” he said; instead of being targeted, it was spread evenly among all students across a district. 
Testing option for Chicago teachers
Eighty-six per cent of Chicago Public Schools employees had submitted proof of vaccination as of Wednesday, district records show. CPS workers who aren’t fully vaccinated by the city’s deadline at the end of the week can instead undergo weekly COVID-19 testing until they get their shots, the district announced. “This disparate enforcement of the vaccine policy will leave schools dangerously understaffed, and disproportionately impact employees of color within CPS,” the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU Local 73 and SEIU Local 1 wrote to Mayor Lori Lightfoot before the updated policy was announced.
'Science of reading' prioritized in many states
As states have crafted plans for addressing the academic disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, one area has emerged as a policy priority.  At least 18 states and the District of Columbia have said that they plan to use COVID-19 relief funding through the American Rescue Plan or previous aid packages to support teacher training or instruction in evidence-based approaches to early literacy. Decades of studies have shown that explicitly and systematically teaching students which sounds represent which letters is the most effective way to get them reading words. However, many teacher preparation programs don’t teach their students how to deliver this kind of instruction, according to some advocates. North Carolina’s new law, passed in April, requires teacher training in the “science of reading,” while in Pennsylvania, teacher preparation programs are now mandated to teach “structured literacy”, defined as a “strong core” of foundational skills integrated alongside instruction in listening, speaking, reading, writing, and spelling. Arkansas banned three-cueing, a practice of word identification that encourages students to rely on pictures and context to decipher words, not just letters. Connecticut passed a law requiring schools to use “evidence-based” reading materials, to be selected from an approved list drawn up by a department of education committee.
Oregon substitute teacher license rules changed
In a bid to tackle an "extraordinary shortage" of substitute teachers, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission is temporarily dropping the bachelor's degree requirement to become licensed in some cases. The measure, which will expire March 31, allows substitute teacher applicants without a bachelor's degree to be sponsored by a school district, which would also provide them with enhanced support and administrative supervision. Notably, the license would only allow individuals to work for the district that sponsored them and would only be valid for the remainder of the school year, or six months, whichever is later.
Access challenges for Black and Hispanic children highlighted
Black and Hispanic children in Marion County face a “chronic lack of access” to high-quality education from the time they’re in preschool to when they’re preparing for college, according to a new report commissioned by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, which underlines poor access to high-performing schools and disproportionate discipline in the classroom. The disparities begin with early childhood education, where 65% of Black children are enrolled in high-quality programs, compared with 76% of white children. The report recommends that the state develop a better data system for tracking early learning abd includes recommendations for addressing the inequities, like automatically enrolling all qualifying students in advanced classes.
Mask mandate compliance demanded by Florida Board of Education
The State Board of Education has sent two Central Florida school boards a 48-hour notice to comply with Florida's mask mandate rules. According to letters, the State Board of Education found that Brevard and Orange County school boards did not comply with the Florida Department of Health Emergency Rule, which requires public schools to "allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt the student out of wearing a face covering or mask at the parent of legal guardian's sole discretion." The board has two days to comply. If they do, no further action is needed the letter states. If they do not comply, the board must confirm the current annual compensation provided to all school board members and they will be penalized financially.
Reading and math decline in ‘Nation’s Report Card’
Even before the pandemic disrupted schools across the U.S., test scores in both reading and math declined for 13-year-old students, the first drop registered in a half century in testing meant to measure student proficiency over time. Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said she was surprised to see an absolute decline. “I had to ask the question again of my staff. `Are you sure?' I asked them to go back and check,” she said. The National Assessment of Educational Progress for decades has been measuring student performance in a variety of academic subjects to chart progress, or lack thereof, and dubbing the data the “Nation’s Report Card.” The results, based on a nationally representative sample of children, compared scores of 9- and 13-year-olds to those in the early 1970s and in 2012. Student scores remained, across the board, higher than they were a half century ago. But the new results showed overall declines for 13-year-olds since 2012, with drops concentrated among the lowest-performing students. Similar drops have also been registered on a separate, similar assessment designed to measure short-term trends, with those scores declining for those at the academic bottom and rising for those at the top. “This is more discouraging news about our students who are struggling to learn,” Carr said. “Our struggling students are struggling more than they ever have before.” The new report finds scores have fallen for Black and Hispanic students since 2012 and remain flat for White children, widening the racial achievement gap. This year also revealed a gender gap, as nine-year-old boys’ math scores stayed steady while girls’ scores fell compared to 2012.
School letter grades to be abandoned in Louisiana
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed Wednesday to shelve letter grades for public schools this year, usually released in November, because of the coronavirus outbreak. With at last 45 other states getting federal clearance to cancel school rating procedures, and the U.S. Department of Education encouraged states to apply for waivers because of the pandemic, State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley is confident the waiver request will be granted. The state intends to provide districts with school performance scores that Brumley emphasized would be advisory, without a corresponding letter grade and not carrying the weight they typically do. That part of the plan has been challenged by officials with the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and the Louisiana School Boards Association however.


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